Monthly Archives: July 2004

Off to Cambodia and Laos

I won’t be writing anything here for the next three weeks. This weekend, Jill and I depart for a 20-day sojourn in Cambodia and Laos.

Our itinerary is open-ended–just the way I like it. We fly from here to Phnom Penh, Cambodia (with a one-night layover in Bangkok), and then we fly home from Vientiane, Laos. Other than that, only the winds of fate shall determine our course. (For Cambodia, we’ve naturally gotta see Angkor Wat. And in Laos, we’ve tentatively got our sights set on Luang Prabang and destinations further afield.)

I’ll be back at you somewhere in the neighborhood of August 15th. With stories aplenty.

A Few More Links

–I wrote a lengthy item a few months ago about how much I love the band Wilco. And so I’d been eagerly awaiting their newest album, A Ghost is Born.

I’m quite disappointed. There are vast stretches of the record that are simply…well, bad. Hard to listen to. Ugly-sounding.

My feeling is that the band (and by “band” I mean Jeff Tweedy, the songwriter and frontman), fresh off the success of their quirky–and brilliant–Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, felt they had to keep pushing the limits of their sound. The result is an album that’s too strange to enjoy.

In a recent article on Slate, “What’s So Great About Wilco?”, Stephen Metcalf rails against the band. He mostly says they’re over-rated, and that Tweedy’s an insecure prima donna. He may be right.

(Side note: what I hate about most rock journalism is that the entire genre often feels like a venue for over-educated hipsters to demonstrate just how cool they (think they) are. Take Metcalf’s clever–if irrelevant–jab at the unwashed masses who adore corporate rock:

“To a listener accustomed to Hootie and the Blowfish, Wilco sounds like the Minutemen–daring, allusive, funky, weird, and yet so right. To a listener accustomed to the Minutemen, Wilco sounds like Hootie and the Blowfish: classic rock for frat boys.”)

I will say this in Wilco’s defense: so far all of their albums have been different and enjoyable in varying manners. Perhaps this one’s just the same. But it’s gonna take a while to grow on me.

–Other stuff:
Drinking those cool Krispy Kremes: “Doughnut retailer unveils frozen beverage line, including a glazed-flavored drink.”
Fast Company article on Whole Foods: “John Mackey’s approach to management is equal parts Star Trek and 1970s flashback. It seems like a recipe for disaster, but at Whole Foods it’s a prescription for world-beating growth — and maybe for a world-changing company.”
“Giant Rabbit Is As Big As 3-Year-Old”

South America’s Indigenous Uprising

Checking in on Bolivia, the AP says: “Nine months after nearly 60 people died in street fighting against plans to export natural gas, Bolivians peacefully voted to do just that in a referendum that appeared to boost a president trying to calm simmering social unrest.”

The story’s complicated; I defer to Bolivia expert Miguel Centellas to sort out the details.

Elsewhere, the Christian Science Monitor’s Lucien O. Chauvin tells us: “Sunday’s Bolivian vote divided indigenous groups; elsewhere natives battle for control over resources.”

Chauvin goes on to note that in Ecuador:

…the country’s indigenous movement, one of the strongest in the world, could be splitting. In the 14 years since the first nationwide uprising in June 1990, which protested the use of natural resources, Ecuador’s indigenous movement helped overthrow two presidents – Abdala Bucaram in 1997 and Jamil Mahuad in 2000 – and usher in important constitutional changes guaranteeing respect for their rights.

In 2002 the movement was instrumental in electing current President Lucio Gutierrez. But indigenous leaders have since broken with Mr. Gutierrez citing his failure to follow through on campaign promises, such as scrapping the US dollar as its currency and returning to the sucre.

The country’s principle indigenous groups are now calling for outside monitors. They have accused the government of instituting plans to divide their organizations and fuel violence.

“Lucio Gutierrez took advantage of all the sacrifices made by the indigenous movement and then betrayed us. I believe that his goal is to eliminate the indigenous movement,” says Luis Macas, a longtime indigenous leader who served as agriculture minister in the Gutierrez administration.

We shall what happens to Lucio. I know I must sound like a broken record at this point, but I’m telling you: the Ecuadorian Prez’s days are numbered. (Although my buddies Mike F. and Jordan L. have said not so fast.)

A Few Links

Wendy H., God bless her, sends word that “Trekkies 2” is now available on DVD. (The follow-up to the hilarious “Trekkies,” this flick never came out in theaters. For shame.)

— Would you believe that a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet command is named…drumroll please…

Lt. Cmdr. Flex Plexico.

Believe it. Seriously.

With a name like that, this guy’s missed his true calling as either a comic book superhero or a gay porn star. (I know, I know–when it comes to the name department, those who live in glass houses…)

–My buddy Chris Holloway, a helluva chef, recently launched his own catering business. If you’re in the Washington, DC area and your office needs a lunch or breakfast, check out his Web site: Three Sqaures Catering.

Thoughts on Personal Productivity

I’m generally skeptical of personal productivity systems. I think they’re mostly much ado about nothing–how hard is it, really, to simply think about what you want from life and then set about accomplishing it? (Okay, so maybe it’s not that easy.)

Out of curiosity, I read Stephen Covey’s hugely popular “Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People.” I found it too long on nebulous touchy-feely stuff (like “personal mission statements” and the like) and short on practical advice.

But then, a few months back, I came across a copy of David Allen’s “Ready for Anything,” a follow-up to his first book, “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.”

I really like Allen’s straightforward approach: he advocates two main concepts. The first is to write down all of your committments–everything from finishing that report at work to cleaning out the garage–and create a written or electronic system for managing these to-do lists. Second, Allen advises doing “weekly reviews” of your various projects and, less frequently, reviewing your longer-term goals. Makes sense to me.

The most recent Atlantic Monthly has a great profile on Allen and his approach, though the article’s regrettably not online. Here’s Allen’s Web site and message board, where his many enthusiasts share pearls of wisdom.

More on Learning Chinese

I’m happy to report that, at long last, I’m making some progress in learning Chinese. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been surprised at how difficult the language is to pick up. But now, after perhaps 10 hours in the classroom learning the tones, Jill and I have moved on to actually speaking words and phrases (!!). Here’re a few.

This should give you a sense of 1) how hard the words are to pronounce, and 2) how the pinyin (the romanization of the Chinese words) isn’t always pronounced the way it’s written. Note that I’m unable to reproduce, here, the tone marks that accompany these words. Each word has one or two or more marks that resemble accent marks; they indicate the lilt with which the words are said.

teacher: laoshi
hello: nihao (“nee-how”
you (sing.): ni (“nee”)
you (pl.): nimen
I/me: wo (“whoa”)
we/us: women (“whoa-men”)
child/children: haizi (“hi-zi”)
things/possessions: dongxi
here: zheli (“jay-li”)
I’m sorry: duibuqi (“dwee-bu-chee”)
beer: pijiu (“pee-joe”)
how much does it cost?: duoshaoqian (“dwo-shao-chee-an”)
notebook: bijiben (“bee-gee-bun”)
pen: yuanzibi (“you-an-zi-bee”)
bathroom: xishoujian (“zee-sho-chee-an”)
1: yi (“yee”)
2: er
3: san
4: si (“s”)
5: wu (“woo”)
6: liu (“lio”
7: qi (“chee”)
8: ba
9: jiu (“jio”)
10: shi (“sh”)

Back From Taipei

Quick note: we’re back from Taipei. A good time was had by all.

My soccer team performed well, making it to the semi-finals, where we were beaten by an excellent squad that went on to win the championship (and which contained a member of the Taiwan national soccer team).

The logistics of the trip are worth noting: we took a 4 a.m. bus up to Taipei early Saturday. (It’s about a 5-hour journey.) Then, Sunday evening, when the tournament was over, we decided to hop on a flight home. We showed up at the aiport at 6:00 p.m., paid about US$60 each, and got on a 6:20 p.m. flight.

Before we departed, we were hanging out at the gate and someone handed me a cold oat soda. I cracked it open with zeal and thus, when we boarded, I marked a new milestone in my traveling career: first time I’ve ever walked onto a plane with an open Kirin lager.

We arrived in Kaohsiung a mere 45 minutes later. Flying is definitely the way to go.

Jalapeno pepper hands: how to cure the burn

[NOTE: this post, describing an accident involving jalapeno peppers, has attracted a huge number of comments. See below. And please add your own thoughts as we seek a cure for this strange affliction!]

jalapeno

I received the following email from a good friend who I’ll call CD. He lives in the Washington, DC area. He sends along this cautionary tale about a cooking experience gone horribly wrong. His story is by turns frightening and hilarious. Enjoy.

Dude, I got a great story for you that I’ll try to relay in this message. Friday night S and I went over to J and C’s. I was going to help C prepare for a catering gig he had on Saturday. So we get there and start boozing and hanging out. We eat dinner and then begin the process of prepping for the catering gig.

Well, one step in the catering cooking process was to roast a 5-pound bag of jalapeno peppers on the grill and then remove the skins and de-seed them. Like what you’d do with a roasted red pepper. Well, at about 10:30pm I belly up to the table outside with all the peppers and start going to town. An hour later, I had peeled all 5 pounds worth….the catch is that I did it with no gloves.

At about mid-night S and I leave and I start complaining that my hands are burning. Not terribly, but a bit of fire. An hour later, we are back at S’s and it really sets in. Pain like I have never felt. Unbelievable, extreme, terrible, super harsh burning pain in both hands and even a little ways up both arms. It was like I had burnt both hands in a fire.

Now, I have to set the time frame so you can get the full affect of how long this pain lasted….it was at about 1am Saturday morning when I really began to realize i was in some trouble. At about 2:30am I woke S up and said I needed help (she had been asleep for about an hour). She got on the Internet and looked up how to stop jalapeno burn. She called two emergency rooms and even a number of “ask the nurse” hotlines. Nothing. At about 3:30am I was in so much pain i was rolling around on the floor almost yelling. By that time I had dipped both hands in milk, olive oil, vegetable oil, yogurt, oatmeal, water with baking soda, a bleach water mix, aloe and even mineral oil. Nothing helped.

At one point, I had both hands covered in aloe, a wet wash cloth on each and my hands in two huge bags that were filled with ice and water. That did not even help. at about 5am S calls my doctor at his emergency number. He says to get in the car and go to the emergency rooms at GW. So, we get in the car and I ride with my hands out the window to let the wind somewhat cool them down.

I check in with the front desk and am taken back to some ER room at about 6am. Now, realize that I am SO embarrassed at this point. Everyone in there is looking at me like I am a freak. They even wrote on the ER board where they identify what is ailing a patient “CD, jalapeno hands.” It was funny as hell.

Once I am in my little holding room they give me a shot a morphine, which by the way does nothing to ease the pain. Damn good high, but nothing for the pain. After the morphine they give me a shot of something stronger which also does nothing for the pain. I even got a shot of straight benedryl because they thought I might be having an allergic reaction. Needless to say, nothing works for the pain. They debated admitting me at one point. They also talked about putting me on some IV of pain killers.

Finally, after being there for about 3 hours, they tell me to go home and basically just wait out the pain. They did give me a prescription for some really strong pain killers.

Well, to get to the end….the pain finally lessoned to where I could take it on Saturday night at about 6pm. I was basically in a living hell for like 18 hours. Even today (Monday morning) I still feel a burning in both hands. If I scratch any part of my body, it immediately starts to burn. I can just bump into something and even that little bit of contact sets off a slight burn. And get this, my feet have this low grade burn from walking on them. That’s how much of the jalapeno oil got into my body.